Member Spotlight: David Cooper


Member Spotlight - David Cooper

[ July 20, 2009 ]   Entertainment is defined as something that interests, pleases or amuses. However, that doesn't exclude seriousness as the "entertainer's" source or goal. Ultimately most artists want to communicate or touch the viewer on some level. David Cooper's art does just that. Whether it makes us laugh or smile at the craziness of his characters, we know that we are looking at unpretentious truth and underneath the whimsical 'masks" lies reality. We know these people! Cooper uses distortion as a tool to emphasize and amplify quirks and feelings to push the emotions within the viewer. We see this with the card playing manipulating devil that toys with us everyday, or the Charlie Chaplin like figure who doesn't seem so funny behind the green curtain as his pressures mount. The song "Tears of a Clown" by Smokey Robinson comes to mind, "Now there's some sad things known to man, but ain't too much sadder than the tears of a clown, when there's no one around". Cooper seems to really be zoning into the "magic" that takes place everyday in all of our lives if we take a moment to feel and see the absurdities and hidden emotions that are sometimes tragic and sometimes hilarious at the same time. I heard the great musician Carlos Santana say that he wanted to make the listener laugh and cry at the same time. David Cooper's art does this.

What gives you the biggest thrill when creating a piece?
Using the magical power of visualization; it never get's boring. For me a sketch is born from an idea and a painting or sculpture is born from a sketch. There's a natural order there that is simple and rhythmical. Creating art is a meditative and self reflective process for me.

What is your idea of artistic success?
Finding joy and excitement in producing my art, whether it is bought, sold, needed or not needed; to create my path as I walk it leaving behind work that I'm proud of.

You have really interesting characters, how do you come up with them, are they based on life, how so?
Honestly, I think I've just learned how to pay attention to my random doodles in my sketch books. I used to dismiss these little drawings, because they flowed out of me so naturally, but I slowly realized that they were important components of my vocabulary that I was building. I really just let my mind go and try to come up with something unique. I'm always drawing in my sketch book, so when I come up with someone interesting they'll usually make their way into my work when I need them. Sometimes I'll use reference and sometimes I won't. I pull influences from everywhere, from myself, people I pass on the street, magazines, etc. There's no one place I find inspiration.

I find your sketch books to be exciting and maybe more raw than the finished work. How do you see the function and importance of your work in your sketchbooks to what you do?
Everything I do today started in my sketch books. They're my stomping grounds. Ideas develop there in the rawest forms. For me, a sketch book isn't a place to show case my best drawings, it's a place to think, experiment and wonder; A place to let go.

Why do you create art?
It's what I do and what I've always wanted to do. I've always had a need to tell stories and to create things. It has always been a great passion of mine. When I was a kid I used to draw my own designs for G.I.JOE figures and write up bios for them. I would then send these designs to Hasbro in hopes that they would someday create a toy based on my concept. It never happened, but it's never too late.

How do you balance who you are and what you produce?
Very carefully as not to get hurt! Seriously though, I take a lot of pride in what I do and I think about it all the time. However, I try not to lose sight of who I am as a person outside of my work. I have family, friends and other interests that need my attention as well. In fact, those people and other interests help to shape me as a human being. They make me more complete, which brings me to a certain peace within my self, which in turn, helps me to create.

How do you know when a piece is finished?
There's no clear cut way for me. When I'm working on a piece, I spend a lot of time just looking at it. I'll bring it into the living room while watching TV. I'll place it right in front of my bed before I go to sleep, so it's the first thing I see in the morning. I go over in my head what needs to be done to move the piece's progression forward. Eventually, I think of fewer things to do, and that's when I know it's almost done. In the end, I try to trust my instincts.

I've had the opportunity to hear you play music, there is a lot of feeling and skill at the same time. How does your visual work compare to the music?
Well, like most novice guitar players, I might be able to play the first 15 seconds of the most influential rock songs ever written, but to play the whole song might be asking too much, so most of the time I just try to write my own music. Just like in my painting, I like to try and tell a little story with the songs I try to write. From a technical stand point my paintings are layered with detailed line work which gives them structure. When I play my guitar, I love to finger pick, because it allows me create more than one note per pick. This creates a layering of sound that turns into interesting melodies. (If I'm lucky) the many small notes heard between the bigger stronger notes help give the song structure. I guess I rely on small details in both my paintings and music, to create a better overall picture and sound. Both my paintings and my songs are a little odd and quiet, very much inspired by old blues music.

I have heard it said that stylization is the basis of human consciousness and all that goes into this consciousness. How do you see it?
I would tend to agree. I grew up during a time when brightly colored action adventure cartoons flooded the air waves. These cartoons found their way into the mass market in the forms of toys, comics, pajamas, bed sheets, etc. I for one bought into all of it. I still watch some of these cartoons today on season long DVD collections. I've used color schemes from some of my favorite characters in a cartoon called Thunder Cats in my paintings today. A lot of what I do comes from deep down inside, but a large percentage of it comes from my conscious ideas of what I think is cool and meaningful. In other words, I use these ideas as a standard to guide what I do. However, it never fully determines it because I leave a lot to my instincts.

As a follow up to this question something that I juggle with is the idea of refinement and over-refinement. Is this a concern of yours?
Yes, it actually is. However, I tend to face that problem early on in the piece. When I start a piece I usually start with a very rough sketch. I then trace the sketch over a few times making various refinements. Sometimes I'll spend way to much time on this process. I've re-drawn ideas about ten or twenty times before I even touch a paint brush. I do this because I like having a clear road map ahead of me before I start a piece. However, during the painting process I never stick to this detailed map exactly. I like improvising when I can. It keeps my process fresh and alive. Once I've covered the entire canvas with paint I like going into it with line work, which begins to give the piece its finished look. Because of my love of drawing I can easily go over board with this process, so I have to be very selective in what areas I treat with this technique.

You went to art school, how did it affect you?
For me going to art school was an invaluable experience. It gave me the time I needed to develop my skills and my vision. Although, this process never ends it was great having the four years to concentrate on it. Also, being around the students and professors everyday supplied inspiration and motivation. There was a real sense of community. We all learned things from each other day to day.

Who and what are your influences and why? (Artistic and non -artistic)
First of all my parents have been a huge influence on my life. They've taught me lasting values that will always be with me during good times and bad. Artistically, I've been influenced by a lot of different people for various reasons. One of the most common factors they all share is their ability to create worlds through their own visual language and to tell interesting and compelling stories. These people include the film makers Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam, the worlds they build on screen are fantastic. Some of my favorite painters and illustrators are, Egon Schiele, Maurice Sendak, Mike Mignola, Ralph Steadman, Marshall Arisman, Rudy Gutierrez and Joe Sorren. As I mentioned earlier, music also plays a large role in what influences me, especially old blues music. Some of my favorites are, Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson and Slim Harpo.

Your sculpture is really interesting and seems to be an extension of your painting and drawing language, do you see it this way and what are you trying to achieve with it?
Yes, my sculpture is an extension of my painting and drawing language. Most of my paintings are driven by the characters within them, so for me sculpture is a tool to help me further develop those characters. In the future I'd really like to develop a series of toys inspired by my paintings.

How do you see the artist responsibility in society?
To tell unbiased truth when others are afraid to. To provoke thought and to bring attention to matters that may not normally receive the attention they deserve and of course to entertain with unique stories.

What is the importance of culture in your work? (Personal and societal)
At this point in my life, popular culture has impacted my self and my work greatly through mediums such as cartoons, comics and movies. I grew up absorbing these epic stories that in turn inspired me to imagine my own mysterious worlds populated by a strange brew of people. However, I'm still searching for my connection to my own personal culture through family history. I'm hoping when I get closer to this, that I'll really be able to create something unique and different.

- Contributed by Rudy Gutierrez

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